They earned a richly deserved reputation for corruption and venality on a scale that would make Grant Devine envious. Christy Clark's BCL government even made the pages of the New York Times not once but twice for its fondness for dirty money and shady deals. Clark's policy on bitumen pipelines and supertankers 'evolved' with every cheque from the Calgary Petroleum Club. Scandals abounded such as BC Hydro and BC Rail and more - much, much more.
The BC Liberals, like their SoCred predecessors, were not always a cohesive bunch. They were mainly a loose gaggle of miscreants defined largely by the fact they weren't New Democrats. It seemed that graft was the glue that held them together. That's one of those perks you lose when you're out of power.
Today the BC Liberals are beginning to fracture. It's a social conservative thing - abortion.
It’s a tough time for the BC Liberals.
A devastating report on money laundering left former Liberal governments looking incompetent, or much worse, for failing to act as a tidal wave of crime enriched the party’s big donors and hurt ordinary British Columbians.
And two high-profile Liberal MLAs’ anti-abortion comments showed the challenge leader Andrew Wilkinson faces in holding the centre-right coalition from imploding.
Former premier Gordon Campbell did it from 1993 to 2010. Former MLA Bill Bennett offered an inside look at the process when he was fired as a cabinet minister in 2010. Being in Campbell’s caucus was to submit to battered wife syndrome, he said. Preventing internal rifts is the most important task for any Liberal leader. In a two-party race, the centre-right coalition starts every campaign with a big advantage over the NDP.
The Liberals are far from splitting. But the decision by MLAs Rich Coleman and Laurie Throness to jump into the abortion debate — and make trouble for Wilkinson — shows there are cracks in the coalition.
Both spoke at an anti-abortion rally on the legislature steps. Coleman told the crowd he was praying for them.
“There really are things in our society we have to stand up for,” he said. “The fact that somebody wants to do things with the right to life at the end of life, or the right to life at the beginning of life, is totally, totally wrong for me.” (Coleman later noted he didn’t use the word abortion, a distinction without a difference, and claimed his religious freedom was under attack.)
Throness unequivocally staked out a position at the extreme end of the anti-abortion campaign. “I’m pro-life because it’s a matter of faith and natural law, that life is sacred from conception until natural death,” he told about 100 people who attended the march.
Our democracy would be stronger if politicians were free to discuss their own policy views even when they differ from the positions of their parties. (Watch Sean Holman’s documentary Whipped to see the damage done by the required slavish devotion to the party line.)
But the abortion debate isn’t a policy discussion. It’s mainly an attempt to impose one group’s religious views on society, as Coleman and Throness confirmed in their speeches.
...Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson took [the position that the debate is settled] after Coleman and Throness spoke. “Our position as a party has not changed in that we support a woman’s right to choose,” he tweeted rather tersely, without saying why he felt it necessary to share that information.
But two powerful MLAs had just said they believed the Liberal position was not just wrong, but immoral.
...The BC Liberals are an uncomfortable coalition. Federal Liberals and Conservatives set aside their differences. Social conservatives, fundamentalist Christians, progressive free market types, northern resource workers, Vancouver real estate developers and anti-government zealots all cram into the “big tent.”
So when two prominent Liberal MLAs say to many of the people sharing the tent the party is wrong on an issue they believe is vitally important, things get complicated — especially for the leader.